The Cleveland Museum of Art’s role as an educational institution has always been a high priority. The museum’s first director, Frederic Allen Whiting, had hired Emily Gibson to direct these efforts even before the institution’s doors opened to the public. She immediately created the Division of Circulating Exhibits (later the Extensions Department), which brought works of art to local institutions and civic organizations. The department’s collection, independent of the museum’s, included objects from around the world in every medium spanning ancient through contemporary art.
By 1919 rotating exhibitions were taking place around the city, with Ruth Ruggles managing the program. Displays designed to augment school curricula included teacher and librarian resources. In its early years, the department relied on gifts and loans. Despite this limitation, by 1930 the collection included nearly 4,000 works.
In 1937, with an appropriation from museum trustees, Ruggles spent two months in Europe acquiring hundreds of works, including several textiles by Josef Frank, an Austrian-born designer who emigrated to Sweden. Perhaps having first been displayed in the 1937 Scandinavian Handicraft exhibition in the museum’s education corridor, Frank’s works are currently featured in Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design, 1930–1970, on view in the Holden Textile Gallery (234). Grants and endowments established in the 1940s, including the Harold T. Clark Educational Extensions Fund, resulted in major growth of the collection, which eventually included more than 18,000 objects.
The museum’s board of trustees voted to close the Extensions Department due to budget constraints in 1992. The collection materials were carefully reviewed for a “better understanding of how those unusual resources might function in the broader education-outreach mission of the museum,” as noted in the annual report of that year. Thus, many works from the extensions collection are now part of the CMA’s Art to Go program.
Recent reviews of that collection have resulted in the transfer of many textiles to the permanent collection. In addition to Swedish textiles, rare Russian laces have been added, while a collection of stencils by August Biehle was transferred to the Museum Archives. Records of the Extensions Department are located in the Museum Archives, and images of museum exhibitions featuring Swedish art are available online in the digital archives.